We’ve been in Ireland for over five months, but aside from our train trip from Dublin after flying in, and our trip to Glasgow, we hadn’t been outside County Cork before this last weekend. That was due in large part to not having a car the first two months, then within a week realizing we’d bought a lemon because the car was stalling at stops. It took weeks for a series of mechanics to even look at the car (they kept promising to, but never did), and more time to fix it by trying one idea after another until one mechanic finally just restarted the computer in it, which seems to have done the trick. Finally, though, we had a car that didn’t stall and the possibility of good weather, so we bought a tent and sleeping bag, and hit the trail.

Okay, we didn’t really go that far, just to County Kerry, the next county to the West of County Cork. First up was Killarney, which is nice and disappointing at the same time. It’s clean, cute, and completely designed for tourists. Maybe it’s best to explain how it felt by comparing it to Cork. In Cork, there is music in many of the pubs, and one in particular, Sin é (pronounced shin-NAY) , has trad sessions on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. The pub is crowded with people, and eight or nine great musicians just show up and play traditional Irish music , packed into a back corner and drinking Murphy’s and Guinness. As we walked down the street in Killarney, we passed a place with no character and two teens playing trad music. The boy in particular looked like he was being forced to practice before being allowed to go play football.

We knew the food would be a disappointment, too, as soon as we sat down in a little restaurant for lunch. The biggest tip-off was the laminated menu with pictures of desserts so common in America but which we’ve never seen here. This was a restaurant for American tourists, not the locals (we came up with the idea for this trip too late for Amy to get advice from co-workers on where to eat). Since it was clearly an American place, I decided to get my stand-by American diner food, the club sandwich. Here, though, only the middle slice of bread was toasted (I can’t explain it), and there was no bacon or cheese, just a thin strip of ham, and not much else. It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t a club sandwich.

Deciding we needed help, we asked the girls working at an ice cream parlour where to eat for dinner, and they recommended a place across the street. It looked promising, but in the end we couldn’t finish our meals. Amy’s salad was greasy (yes, greasy, from the fried croutons), and my pasta sauce tasted like it came out of a jar. The hostess asked if it was okay, and we decided to be honest. To their credit, they comped the meal, which made me feel horribly guilty and I felt like explaining that we weren’t ugly Americans who hated everything we tried while travelling. Actually, we were disappointed because the food in Killarney compared so poorly to the generally excellent food we’ve had all over County Cork.

Even the buskers are different. In Cork, there are buskers at certain street corners in City Centre, and they seem, well, real. You can hear people playing the accordion or the fiddle, or singing (some good, some not), or performing some other show, and they’re out even when there doesn’t seem to be a tourist in sight. In Killarney, we saw one man on the sidewalk, wearing a cheesy leprechaun hat with fake green hair, a yellow shirt and green track pants. Trust me, people, this is not what the Irish usually wear. Normally they wear fake orange hair, green shirt, and yellow track pants. His act (though I never saw him actually perform) involved some sort of cardboard cut-out leprechaun.

During the day we had gone to Killarney National Park, which was gorgeous, but also quite familiar. The lake, with its beautiful but odd little islands, was not like anything we’d seen, but so much of the park reminded us of Oregon, and in particular Silver Falls State Park. The greens of the trees, moss and ferns, the rocks lining the trail, everything around Torc Waterfall made me conclude that if a visitor to Silver Falls was magically transported to Torc he’d think he’d just moved on to the next waterfall in the park. For those of your familiar with Silver Falls, look at our Flickr pix to see what we mean.

On Sunday, we drove the Ring of Kerry, the peninsula just south of the Dingle Peninsula. The road is narrow much of the way, but luckily it’s not quite the high season so there weren’t too many buses. Well, not too many until pulling into a small town at lunchtime and seeing bus after bus lined up on the road. For our own lunch, we waited until we got to O’Carroll’s Cove Beach Bar, “Ireland’s only beach bar and restaurant.” It was right on the beach, and sitting in the sun in our shirt-sleeves was wonderful. The water looked straight out of the Caribbean, and our guidebook told us it was the warmest water on the coast of Ireland. It didn’t quite numb your feet within seconds, but it didn’t exactly encourage long swims, either.